Saturday, 19 May 2007

False Consciousness?

Sometimes I'm unsure how sure we can ever be of anything. I mean, when you think about how difficult it is to have absolute knowledge of anything then you have to conclude that our understanding of reality - indeed our entire lives - is somehow haphazard. I don't know that Jupiter or DNA exist. That's simply received wisdom. I've no way of proving it one way or the other.

The same goes for all (opposing) ideological discourses. They assert their truth - and posit certain proofs - but for the lowly bystander, assailed by all this information, it is hard to discern the true from the false proof. In the end we err with those that we like the sound of. Or have a 'good intuition' about. But in the end doesn't that just mean that reality is just a hall of mirrors?

Still, sitting in ethical paralysis never helped the world go round. So we choose. Or are chosen - by our family, culture, background, experiences - to act in particular ways. These cultured actions then take on the appearance of truth for those who live by them. The problem, it seems to me, then comes when you put into question the cultural attributes you grow up with. In many ways it is a normal and necessary process, particularly since, with travel and migration making the world smaller, we always have bases from which to criticise our own foundations. Indeed we are encouraged to do so. Seeking knowledge, after all, is one of the great injunctions of history.

Yet how dangerous to break something down without putting anything else in its place. From my - albeit scant - reading of postmodern thinkers so far that seems to be the greatest problem. Smash the false gods, unravel the building blocks of sense and meaning and what you create is a void of incalculable dimensions. What postmodernism gives us is a life without sense, without points of reference. It leaves us with the chronic, and incalculable stress, of a nihilism brutal in its rejection of the ties that bind. It leaves us washed up alone on the shores of a desert island knowing neither where we are nor where we came from.

We live this nightmare, most of us in Western Europe, at various levels of consciousness. And we survive our nostalgia for meaning by means of escapism - drugs, alcohol, and distractions of all sorts. But stop for one minute, just one minute, and the house of cards can come crashing down. We must have the courage to build something that can withstand this corrosive cynicism. All my exhaustive reading has taught me so far, however, is that this has to be built with the heart as well as the head.

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